Chaplain Johnathan Court was sent to Fort McCoy, Wis., this past spring, for Warrior Exercise (WAREX), “three weeks of training in the field as if we were at war.” Court was in charge of providing religious support for about 2,000 soldiers at one location and another 1,000 soldiers at a second. “It was a great experience,” he says, “as I learned how to become a more effective chaplain during deployment.”
WAREX began in late March, when the weather was still snowy and the temperature sometimes below zero. Soldiers slept in tents with heaters that broke down too often, many people sleeping only a few hours a night, some of the equipment not working properly, and everyone feeling emotionally and physically challenged. “Everyone was here to learn,” Johnathan says, “and the way we were being taught was by being pushed—sometimes until we failed.”
In addition to scheduling chapel services and activities for the major faith groups, Court held prayer and praise nights, Bible studies, and activities, especially for those who are unchurched and who wanted to relax, play games, watch a movie, or just warm up and chat. When he was not at the chapel, “which was most of the time,” Court was “walking around checking on the troops, trying to make stressed, tired, grumpy people smile; counseling; escorting soldiers with issues to places they needed to go for help; advocating for soldiers; comforting and helping soldiers with Red Cross notifications; and helping soldiers who were thinking about suicide.”
Court says things ran smoother as the soldiers began to settle into a battle rhythm and as the weather improved. Operations ran 24-7, so in theory soldiers worked 12-hour shifts, but in reality they worked closer to 16 hours or more at a time. Court chose to end his day after midnight to spend time with the soldiers who didn’t have the opportunity to stop during the day. He also wanted to get to know the soldiers on night shift. It was amazing how sacrificing some sleep could build relationships and open up opportunities for counsel and spiritual guidance, he says. Most of the time these conversations related to moral issues.
Johnathan and his wife, Alyssa, now serve at Fort Bliss, but they continue to pray for the soldiers who heard the gospel at the Fort McCoy WAREX. Referring to 1 Corinthians 3:6, he says, “One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase!”